Fines may be imposed for school exclusions

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The Independent Online
SCHOOLS could be fined if they exclude disruptive and badly behaved pupils, under options being considered by the Department for Education.

Ministers are concerned that the number of children being permanently excluded from schools may be rising.

About 3,000 children were permanently excluded from schools in 1991. There are no comparative figures for other years but Eric Forth, the schools minister, said that most people seemed to believe the rate was increasing.

There are some fears that there is more pressure on schools to ease out troublemakers who may mar the school's reputation, or disrupt other children and affect the school's performance in examinations. One teaching union leader said that imposing financial penalties on schools would be taxing them for the sins of their pupils.

Mr Forth yesterday published a discussion paper listing options to help reduce the number of exclusions. They include requiring schools to publish their exclusion rates in the same way they publish exam results; fining schools by taking away money if children have to be taught elsewhere or at home; or rewarding schools prepared to take on disruptive children rejected elsewhere.

Mr Forth said that schools had a responsibility to ensure that young people were in school. If they were not, 'there is a strong probability that they may be getting involved in crime'.

He said he wanted to be satisfied that every youngster of school age was receiving a good education. 'Frankly, there is a question mark over that at the moment.'

The peak age for exclusion was 15 and about four boys were excluded for every one girl. Afro-Caribbean pupils were disproportionately represented: they formed 8.1 per cent of the total though they represented only 2 per cent of the school population. Mr Forth said he did not know the reasons for this.

He said that variations in the number of exclusions between different schools could not be explained away by the difference in catchment areas or the backgrounds of children.

The major reason for excluding children was a constant refusal to comply with school rules, or verbal abuse or insolence to teachers. Physical aggression against school staff was rare (against teachers 7 per cent, against non-teaching staff 1 per cent).

Physical aggression against other pupils and bullying were more common offences (14 and 5 per cent respectively).

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: 'I am appalled even at the suggestion that schools should be penalised financially for expelling pupils. Schools would be taxed for the sins of their pupils.'

Exclusion decisions should be taken on professional and educational grounds. 'What happens in cases of pupils committing crimes? Teachers cannot teach and act as prison wardens at the same time. It is alarming testimony to the Government's moral bankruptcy that money is placed above standards of behaviour.'

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the Government had created a no-win dilemma for schools. 'If they exclude pupils this will be used against the schools in the league tables. But if they retain disruptive pupils this will damage the education of other pupils.

'In the run-up to the introduction of school league tables, pupil exclusions increased by 20 per cent in just one year. Our members made it clear that the reason for this jump was the impending introduction of league tables and the lack of alternative support to deal with disruptive pupils.'